Pesach, otherwise known as the Festival of Freedom, is filled with tradition. Do freedom and tradition connect? Initially, it may seem antithetical, but I’d like to propose that there is a connection.
On Pesach, we commemorate the liberation of B’nei Yisrael from the shackles of Egyptian slavery. Thus began the evolution of an enslaved people in becoming an independent nation.
The exodus from Egypt was more than a momentous event in Jewish history. It actually was a milestone in the history of civilization. This was the first time that people demanded emancipation as a nation. In a manner of sorts it was the ‘spring of nations’ of the ancient civilization. In his writings Rav Kook refers to this monumental event as follows:
“The liberation from Egypt shall be eternally distinguished as the ‘spring of the world’ in its’ entirety.”
Slavery was an accepted practice in ancient civilizations. The Israelites being enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt was not uncommon. What makes it unique is that they achieved emancipation after hundreds of years of bondage.
Ma Nishtana? What differentiated the Hebrew slaves from others, which ultimately resulted in their liberation?
A slave is ‘manpower’ whose very identity is erased, usually in direct correlation to the power his enslaver holds. That’s the crux of it. And that’s where the saga of the Hebrew slaves takes a twist that made the difference.
We learn that as slaves Bnei Yisrael remained true to their heritage by not changing their names, spoken language or attire. This granted them the uniqueness and sense of belonging that eventually paved the way to becoming a nation. Even in enslavement they maintained a semblance of independence. This enabled them to maintain the awareness of what to strive for beyond the daily suffering that they experienced, as well as prevented them from assimilation into Egyptian society.
Adhering to and honoring the heritage of their forefathers offered them a sense of identity and belonging. Belonging is existential and essential to the individual’s well-being and development. Ultimately it provides the building block of a functioning society. To belong to something bigger is empowering – even to an overworked slave.
The Hebrew slaves in Egypt gained the feeling of belonging by continuing the traditions of their ancestors as they persistently displayed their unique identity within the Egyptian culture. This was empowering and as we know, eventually led to their ‘Geula’- redemption. Paradoxically, by not ‘breaking free’ from tradition they actually achieved freedom.
Now let’s fast-forward 49 days after the dramatic redemption. The recently freed slaves commit to accepting the Torah. It may look as if they are relinquishing their newly found freedom. Yet, in reality it’s what gives them the structure to build a functioning society as well as enhancing the identity and sense of belonging that they had persevered to maintain throughout generations of oppression and slavery.
This concept can be applied as well to the family, which is a microcosm of society in general. The individual child’s need for belonging is existential. Cooperating within the structure of the family is the essence of his belonging. Though it may seem that he is foregoing his individuality, in reality he is empowered by attaining the security of belonging to something bigger than himself.
‘Belonging’ in the family can be achieved in many ways. The most basic and significant is simply ‘Kibud Horim’, honoring our parents and their heritage. By doing so we secure the vital and existential feeling of belonging. One of the most significant aspects of Kibud Horim is letting go – freeing ourselves of criticism, blame and judgement regarding our parents. This is not specifically geared to protect the parent; rather it has a redeeming quality that frees the child to take responsibility for his behavior and his life in general. Ultimately it’s liberating as well as empowering. It’s the key to freedom!
May we celebrate a joyous festival of freedom as we heighten our connection to family and nation.